Ross Coleman has been sprinting to work lately, thrilled to be celebrating what he calls a 180-degree turnaround from 2020, when he made the decision to close Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick for the summer. This year, he says the phones "have never rung more."
"Our families are ready, are eager, are excited," says Coleman, the camp’s owner/director. "We’re looking forward to being at camp and being reunited."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision that New York day and sleepaway camps can reopen if numbers don’t surge, coupled with the success achieved by Long Island day camps that operated last summer, has spurred many families to feel more comfortable sending kids back for 2021, though they are still asking questions about how camps will keep children safe, camp directors and families say.
While day camps were able to open last summer under strict pandemic protocols, and a number of Long Island day camps chose to do so, New York sleepaway camps were barred from opening entirely.
"I think I might have screamed out loud when I heard we are able to plan for it, when the governor made the announcement," says Laura Bissett-Carr, a senior director at Camp Blue Bay, a sleepaway camp in East Hampton that is owned and operated by the Girl Scouts of Nassau County. The camp, which currently is limiting itself to 75% capacity for the summer, is already "pretty much across the board full" for most ages groups and has a waiting list, Bissett-Carr says.
BACK IN THE SWING OF IT
Some camps that did open in 2020 are also re-expanding specialty programming that was eliminated last year due to protocol limitations. Park Shore Day Camp in Dix Hills, for instance, didn’t run its Extreme Steam Science Kids camp program last summer, but will be bringing it back for 2021, says owner Bob Budah.
And the majority of traditional activities will be in play. "Kids will be swimming, they’ll be horseback riding, they’ll be playing sports, they’ll be boating, they’ll be rock climbing," Coleman says.
One of those who can’t wait to be heading back as an assistant counselor at Coleman is Emma Winter, 17, of Oceanside. "Last summer would have been my fourteenth summer at camp," Winter says. "I’m very excited to see a lot of my friends; some I haven’t seen in almost two years. The funny thing about camp is you don’t see someone for 365 days and it’s as if time stopped and you just pick up where you left off. I can’t help thinking that’s exactly how it’s going to be."
Bailey Jex, 15, of Mineola, is going back to Camp Blue Bay as a Counselor in Training. She’s looking forward to swimming in the bay and sailing, she says. "I’m very excited I can go this year. Very thankful," she says.
Twins Gabriella and Daniella Contrera, 14, of Bellmore, will also return to Camp Blue Bay. Typically, they go for three weeks, but to make up for lost time, their parents are letting them go for the full six-week summer this year. "They missed out last year and it was really sad for them, so we sort of said, ‘Why not?’" says Antonella Contrera, 45, who works in finance at Columbia University.
Coleman camper Camryn Stone, 10, of Merrick, says the first things she will do upon return to camp is "if I see any of my old counselors …" She hesitates. "I’d probably go say hi." Says her mother, Katie, 41, a stay-at-home mom: "I feel like she wants to say ‘give them a big hug,’ but she knows that’s the wrong thing to say [because of COVID-19]."
CAMPS FOLLOWING PROTOCOLS
While families are signing on for the summer, it’s not without wanting to know the specifics of how camps will protect their children, camp directors say.
Camps that opened last summer have shared their best practices with other Long Island camps, says Will Pierce, owner/director of Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn and president of the 30-member Long Island Camps and Private Schools Association. Pierce had 700 people on its campgrounds every day during the summer of 2020 without a single case of COVID-19, he says.
"In the worst-case scenario, day camps will be open under the guidelines from last summer, which worked incredibly well," Pierce says. Those included pre-camp temperature checks, mask wearing by staff, small cohorts who spent the day together, and other restrictions.
But camp directors say they are waiting for the state to hand down 2021 protocols in the coming weeks, which may amend requirements. "That’s still an eternity in terms of the world we live in; things are changing quickly," Coleman says.
Transportation to camp will also return; last summer parents for the most part had to drop their children off and pick them up. But how that will be handled hasn’t yet been prescribed by the state, Pierce says. His camp has its own buses and has been operating them for local school districts with all students wearing masks at a 50% to 66% capacity so that each child can sit next to a window and windows can be open when it’s warm enough, Pierce says.
TAKING THE LEAP
Diana Shapiro, 38, of Great Neck, who works in finance, says her three children are the third generation to attend Pierce. Last summer, however, she and her husband decided not to send them because of uncertainty. This year, they feel comfortable sending them back; their older son and daughter, ages 10 and 7, will go to Pierce’s sister sleepaway Camp Birchmont in New Hampshire and her younger daughter, 5, will attend Pierce on Long Island.
The fact that their friends sent their children to Pierce last summer and had only good things to say, coupled with Shapiro’s expectation that vaccination rates will climb by summer, made the family feel good about resuming camp. "Things are just getting better," Shapiro says.
Coleman agrees. "I’m all about 2021," he says. "I think this summer will be one for the ages."